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Woman's throat was slashed, authorities say
Body is that of Chicago Heights mom, police say

Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Matthew Walberg and Jason Meisner

Authorities say the throat of a Chicago Heights mother whose body was found yesterday appears to have been slashed. An autopsy scheduled for later today was expected to reveal the cause of death.

Alma Mendez had been missing since she went jogging in Sauk Trail Woods Forest Preserve on Sunday. Her body was found Tuesday floating in a lake just yards from the path, police said.

Investigators said today that her body was fully clothed and her throat appeared to have been slashed.
The discovery of her body brought to a close a painstaking search of the forest preserve in South Chicago Heights after Mendez was reported missing Sunday night.

"Obviously, this afternoon the body of the woman missing from Chicago Heights was in fact found here in the forest preserve," said Cook County Forest Preserve Chief Richard Waszak. There was no identification found on the body, he said, but the clothing matched the description of the outfit Mendez was wearing when she left for her jog. "We believe that this is, in fact, the missing person."

A positive identification of the body had not been made, a spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner's office said this morning.

Volunteers found the body floating about 15 feet from the bank of Sauk Lake and about 20 yards from the jogging path, authorities said.

Sonia Chavez , 33, a friend of Mendez's, was part of the search group Tuesday. About 1 p.m., she said she heard a commotion.

"I heard screaming, and they said, 'It's her, it's her!'" Chavez said.

She said she caught a glimpse of the body and what appeared to be Mendez's blue jogging suit.

Mendez, 39, of the 300 block of West 14th Place was last heard from between 1:30 and 2 p.m. Sunday, when she talked on her cell phone with her sister, and then with a close friend. She drove from her home to the preserve for her daily jog.

When she did not return calls from her son later that day, he grew worried and asked his mother's sister Maria Lopez to go look for her. Lopez and her husband found Mendez's 2005 Ford Freestyle SUV in the parking lot, but there was no sign of Mendez.

Dozens of family members, police and volunteers searched the densely wooded preserve from 8 p.m. Sunday until around 3:30 a.m. Monday. The search resumed at daybreak Monday and continued until nightfall.

On Tuesday, police made plans to search the lake, but about 2 p.m. the body was spotted by volunteers walking near the water's edge.

Mendez, a mother of three, had recently separated from her husband of 19 years. Police interviewed him along with other family members, and on Tuesday afternoon Chicago Heights police Lt. Michael Romano said the husband told authorities he was with his family all day Sunday.

At this point, the case is considered a death investigation, not a homicide, Romano said. An autopsy was expected to be performed Wednesday.

Mendez's sisters and immediate family members, who watched from a hilltop as police removed the body from the water, declined to speak with reporters.

A searcher who identified himself as a relative said the discovery was heartbreaking.

"I was on the other side of a field when [another volunteer with him] got a call on his cell phone saying they found a body in the lake," said Juan Rosales. "We ran to the other side, and that's when we found out it was her. I didn't want to see. I had to turn away."

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